What Is Stress?

There is no medical definition of stress, and often disagreement amongst health professionals over whether stress is the result of problems or the cause of them. There is still however a common consensus that stress is simply a response in our body to external pressures. The causation can vary greatly between people and are impacted by matters such as the environment we live in, our genetic makeup, our relationship status, work and our social and economic circumstances. Stress can manifest in many different ways and can build slowly or quickly, depending on the circumstances.

Some common contributing factors toward feeling stressed include: experiencing something new or unexpected, something that threatens your feeling of self, or feeling you have little control over a situation.

On encountering stress, our body produces, through stimulation, stress hormones that trigger a “fight or flight” response and activate our immune system.

The response is not completely negative as it helps us to respond quickly to dangerous situations. As such, this can be appropriate, or even beneficial depending on the circumstances. Pressure can help push individuals through scenarios that would otherwise seem insurmountable. However this can be a double edged sword when stress becomes more than we are able to deal with. If we are put into a state of stress over a long period of time, this can leave us feeling overwhelmed and it will have a negative impact on physical and mental wellbeing.

Myths About Stress:

There are many myths about stress, including that it is the same for everyone. The truth is there are some who use it as a fuel to push themselves on, and even welcome it. Others however find it completely overwhelming to a point of total debilitation. Other common myths suggest that stress is always bad for you, stress is everywhere and there is no escape, and that only major stress needs to be taken care of.

Causes of Stress:

As stress felt by the body is stimulated through individual perception, and individuals can see the world in many different ways (i.e what someone enjoys might be something of dread for another) there is no limit to causation, however there are certain areas that are recognised as universal causes of stress.

These include (but are not limited to):

Work Related Stress:

  • Having a heavy workload or too much responsibility
  • Working long hours and behind on deadlines
  • Poor management or feeling like your voice doesn’t go anywhere.
  • Dangerous Conditions
  • Job insecurity.
  • Public Speaking.
  • Prejudice and Discrimination.

Relationships:

  • Divorce
  • Financial obligations
  • Hetero-conformity
  • Changing homes or moving out
  • Coming Out
  • Loss of a Loved One
  • Differences in Desire
  • Looking after a family member who is ill or elderly
  • Children

Symptoms of Stress:

Like most things about the stress itself, the symptom can depend on the individual. Additionally, symptoms of stress are not necessarily proof that someone is under stress nor are the lack of symptoms proof of the alternative. These symptoms can include (but are not limited to):

Physical Symptoms of Stress Include:

  • Energy Dips
  • Headaches
  • Stomach Problems
  • Loss of Sexual desire
  • Sweaty hands and feet
  • Difficulty Swallowing
  • Grinding teeth and Clenched Jaw
  • Tense body and pained muscles
  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Trouble Sleeping and/or sleep deprivation
  • Easier to become ill (compromised immune system)

Mood Symptoms of Stress Include:

  • Easier to become agitated or moody.
  • Feeling like losing the grip of control to the point of feeling overwhelmed.
  • Wanting to stay away from others.
  • Trouble relaxing and achieving mental calm
  • Low self-esteem, loneliness, worthiness, and/or depression

Behavioural Symptoms of Stress Include:

  • Fluctuated Appetite
  • Shirking responsibilities
  • Increase in compulsions such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, nail biting, fidgeting

Cognitive Symptoms of Stress Include:

  • The inability to stop worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Disorganisation and Forgetfulness
  • Problems achieving and maintaining focus
  • Judgment impairment
  • Easier to see things in a worse light

Treatments of Stress:

Stress can be a daily part of life but it is also something that people are able to find relief from. Stress is also something that is a reaction to some other stimulus and so sometimes it is better to go after the cause of the stress rather than the stress itself. However, stress is not really treated as it is managed. Managing stress will often include changes in daily practices as opposed to making drastic changes in lifestyle: like a healthy diet, it requires constant work.

The effective management of stress is usually seen as a positive experience, which makes keeping on top of one’s stress easier than it otherwise would be. Since relief from stress tends not to occur in one breakthrough moment, any improvements across a person’s life is considered a success.

It is important to note that as stress is not always perceived as a bad thing, some individuals might not wish to find relief when they find the manageable, achieved results of the stress a (more than) favourable trade off.

Stress treatment (management techniques) can include any number of fixes and additions to one’s life, and include (but are not limited to):

  • Going into nature (parks, forests, the countryside)
  • Exercise
  • Yoga and meditation
  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Massage
  • Laughing

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